When driving Rhode Island’s mere 1,100 miles of state-maintained roadway, it’s important to know Rhode Island car accident laws. Even though it’s the smallest state in the U.S., there were still 63 fatal car accidents in 2021. And 43 of those were multi-car crashes.
Our complete guide gives you the lowdown on what to do after a crash in Rhode Island. Read on to learn where and when to report, how to determine fault, and when you really need a lawyer.
What to Do at the Scene of a Car Accident in Rhode Island
Though car accident laws vary by state, one thing is always the same. Right after an accident occurs, step number one is to check for injuries and make sure everyone is safe. Everything else can wait.
Once that’s complete, immediately calling 911 and law enforcement should be your next move. Rhode Island General Laws §31-26-3.2 require drivers to report when there are accidents resulting in injury. This also applies to fatalities or when either vehicle is functionally inoperable.
Next, you can move on to collecting required information at the scene. A list of things you should always gather onsite after an accident includes:
- Contact info (full name, address, phone, email)
- Driver’s license number
- Insurance ID card/policy number
- Car registration and license plate number
- Car make, model, and color
Take photos of your surroundings, the cars, damages, and injuries if possible. Ask witnesses if they’re willing to give you statements about the crash and their contact information. This can help you prove liability when filing your car accident claim with your attorney.
Be sure not to apologize or say anything incriminating even if you think you’re partially responsible. Any comment can be used against you in court due to Rhode Island car accident laws when determining fault and settlements.
How Do I Report a Car Accident in Rhode Island
As mentioned above, it is law in Rhode Island that drivers must report any car accidents immediately to law enforcement. Additionally, after accidents with injuries, death, or property damage more than $1,000, there are also written report filing requirements.
This is in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws §31-26-6 which give residents 21 days post-accident to submit standardized forms. Once complete, these should go directly to the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles.
If you need the official accident report, you can also get a copy of that via US mail or online. Make sure you get your accident report number from the law enforcement official at the scene of the crash. You’ll need that number to request a formal copy of the filed report, typically available 72 hours after an accident.
Rhode Island Car Insurance Laws
Rhode Island car accident law requires every driver and car owner to be “financially responsible” in the event of a crash.
As a result, the car insurance minimum amounts in Rhode Island are 25/50/25, or as follows:
- $25,000 in bodily injury per person
- $50,000 in bodily injury per accident
- $25,000 in property damage
These numbers fall under Rhode Island’s liability insurance policy, which covers the costs of any medical bills or property damage you cause others. Anything above the policy’s maximum payout amount, however, becomes your responsibility.
Accordingly, there are cases where a driver may wish to retain a policy with higher liability limits and/or additional coverages.
Since liability doesn’t cover the individual driver, many people choose to add optional collision coverage to their auto insurance policy. This ensures that damages to the driver’s vehicle will get repaired if no one else’s policy will cover the damages.
Even though Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) is not required in Rhode Island, it’s often another smart policy addition. If you opt out of this coverage, you must sign a waiver when purchasing insurance in Rhode Island. Just remember, UIM will cover you and any passengers if the other driver has no insurance, or if it’s a hit-and-run.
UIM may not be a requirement, but driving with insurance is state law. Still, it’s estimated about 16.5% of Rhode Island drivers do not have insurance. Anyone caught driving without insurance per R.I. Gen. Laws §31-47-9 may receive fines or lose their license and registration.
Consulting with a lawyer about UIM or hit-and-run accidents is another smart move. If you have additional questions about car insurance in the state, you can also contact the Rhode Island insurance division.
Is Rhode Island a No-Fault State?
Rhode Island is an at-fault state, meaning the party responsible for the crash will pay for the damages they caused under Rhode Island car accident law. There are several ways a person may make a claim after an accident:
- By filing a claim on their own insurance policy to cover damages
- By filing a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier
- By filing a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver
You can do the first two options without legal assistance, but it’s wiser to consult an attorney before taking lowball settlement amounts from insurance companies.
Comparative Negligence Laws in Rhode Island
To further explain, let’s say a judge, jury, or insurance company finds a driver 15% at-fault. In a pure comparative negligence state, they can get 85% of any damage awards. If they end up 99% at-fault, however, then they only get 1%.
Some states like Oregon don’t allow drivers over 50% at-fault to receive any damages at all. This is where a pure comparative negligence system is different. Still, determining who is responsible for what percentage of an accident is tricky business. And that final determination will largely affect what settlement amount you receive for any damages.
A skilled attorney can help you understand how much you and the other party (or parties) are liable. Their goal is the same as yours in helping you get the most compensation possible.
Types of Damages in Rhode Island Car Accidents
There are three types of damages a person may be able to recover in a car accident lawsuit in Rhode Island. These are:
Just as the name suggests, economic damages are quantifiable losses resulting from an accident. They may include things such as:
- Medical bills
- Car repair expenses
- Lost work/wages/employment opportunities
- Money necessary for assistive devices (like wheelchairs)
- Loss of use of property
These damages are the unquantifiable losses you may experience after an accident. These may be more complicated owing to the fact they’re not tangible. But they’re no less harmful in scope. Non-economic damages might be:
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of reputation
- Loss of companionship
There is no punitive damage limit amount in Rhode Island. And R.I. Gen. Laws §28-5-29.1 allow a plaintiff to ask for these damages in a lawsuit. However, these are not damages intended to make up for losses, but to punish the defendant for particularly reckless actions.
You’ll usually see punitive damages in cases where someone intentionally causes reckless harm in an accident. They also apply in cases of extreme negligence where someone’s actions are considered unreasonable for a sane individual.
Rhode Island Statute of Limitations
Every state has a time limit for filing a car accident claim. In Rhode Island, those limits are actually more generous than many states. However, you still must follow them so your claim can be considered.
Virtually all personal injury lawsuits stemming from car accidents have a three-year statute of limitations, per R.I. Gen. Laws §9-1-14. The clock starts from the date of the accident.
The same three-year limit applies to most wrongful death suits resulting from a vehicular accident. However, in the case of R.I. Gen. Laws §10-7-2, the timer begins from the moment the deceased passes.
Finally, if suing for property damages to your vehicle or other property, Rhode Island gives you an extremely generous 10 years! That is thanks to a broadly encompassing rule found in R.I. Gen. Laws §9-1-13.
Still, even though Rhode Island car accident laws give you longer to file, do not miss the deadline or there is no doubt that a judge will dismiss your case.
Also keep in mind that this is not the deadline for a claim with your insurance company. That should generally happen within a few weeks at most.
LegalASAP Will Connect You With an Auto Accident Attorney
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you can probably tell that Rhode Island car accident laws can get confusing. Especially when it comes to determining the at-fault percentage of each driver.
As a result, it’s never a bad idea to have a free consultation with a skilled car accident attorney. Especially if you want to get the highest payout possible for any damages resulting from an accident.
Let LegalASAP connect you with an auto accident lawyer in your area today. Because on the road of life, you don’t have to do it all alone.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann